As part of our broader Women in the Workplace 2017 research, we conducted a deep dive on women in law firms in North America. The survey finds that law firms are taking important steps to increase gender equality. They are providing senior-leadership support to advance attorneys’ careers and offering programs that provide flexibility and address major work-life balance issues.
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But these efforts have had limited success. Only 19 percent of equity partners are women, and women are 29 percent less likely to reach the first level of partnership than are men. We found that law firms face higher attrition among women than men at the equity partner level and that the gender gap is much is much wider in law firms than in other industries. Women of color face an even steeper climb, with their representation dropping significantly at all levels in the pipeline. Female attorneys perceive less commitment to gender equality and a more uneven playing field at law firms than their male colleagues.
Law firms clearly have more work to do, not just in implementing policies and programs but also in fundamentally changing nonpartner attorneys’ perceptions of their efforts. For example, female attorneys (and many of their male colleagues) fear that participating in flexible-work programs will damage their careers. The question now is how those firms that have invested in—and recognize—the benefits of gender equality translate their stated commitments into measurable outcomes.
Download the full report on which this article is based, Women in law firms (PDF–2.3 MB).